One would be forgiven if there were confusion between Michigan head coach Brady Hoke and Glenn Fry these days, because in Ann Arbor, there's no question that "the heat is on" for Hoke to start winning football games again.
After a 7-6 season and a major coaching staff change, there's little doubt that the pressure to win big is on. It will be on the 2014 team to point things in the right direction—which is winning double-digit games and beating Ohio, as Hoke likes to say.
The problem is Michigan loses its best offensive lineman, Taylor Lewan, and it also loses its only game-changing threat at a skill position in wide receiver Jeremy Gallon. Defensively, the Wolverines are looking at having to replace the middle of their 4-3 lineup with defensive tackles Jibreel Black and Quinton Washington graduated.
Hoke appears to have his work cut out for him between the results and the key players leaving—but that's where the now completed 2014 recruiting class comes in.
It is rich in superlatives and 4-star talent, with eight members of the class earning that rating. Add in 5-star cornerback Jabrill Peppers, and there begins to be some form of hope around Michigan's football building.
More importantly, Michigan also is getting nearly half of its class in early, and that could be a huge advantage.
The question is just how many of these 4- and 5-star rated players can logically contribute right away. Brady Hoke sees a good number of this class being in a position to impact the 2014 season, according to his remarks on national signing day:
You hesitate to say because you say it and then everybody thinks it is gospel. When the guy doesn't play, they start questioning the kid. We really got away from this being about the kids playing the game. It's not going to go back, it's not going to get any better. But I think there are five or six guys who might have an opportunity (to play early). The guys who come in early, in January, they get a better head start on the others.
If the five or six number pans out to be true, it means the 2014 class is likely to have a very significant impact on how the upcoming season pans out.
That's because the Wolverines stockpiled highly rated prospects at the skill positions, especially wide receiver. Drake Harris and Freddy Canteen, both 4-star recruits, are already enrolled at Michigan—and it could be their progress that makes or breaks the 2014 season.
Someone has to step up and be a playmaker out wide, with Gallon and his 89 receptions for 1,373 yards and nine touchdowns gone. Only Jehu Chesson returns as a significant contributor at wide receiver from 2013.
Chesson also happened to be a redshirt freshman last season, showing early contributions are possible with the right people.
Harris, who was the No. 7-ranked wide receiver in the 2014 class according to the 247Sports composite rankings, and Canteen will need to show this spring that they are up to speed. It won't be their only opportunity to impress the coaching staff, but there's nothing like a good first impression.
It won't just be the skill positions where Michigan could see some contributions from this true freshmen class, as the offensive line was nothing short of a disaster in 2013.
That should mean plenty of opportunity for playing time exists and, more importantly, plenty of opportunity to find the right chemistry along the O-line. More than anything else, the constant musical chairs that happened in 2013 slowed everything else down.
There's little doubt that with new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier in the fold, everyone in the group is going to get their opportunity to impress and fill out the revamped line.
For Michigan, the reality of the situation is that its best and brightest hope in 2014 may be to unleash the just-signed class and see where the chips fall.
That may be a risky proposition given the lack of development on what was a pretty young Wolverines team in 2013. It's something Hoke acknowledged that needed to change quickly for this team to turnaround, via Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com:
I told them (player development wasn't good enough this year), at every position. (I told the) staff, and (it starts with me). ... I know we need to do a better job. I just didn't think, starting with me, we did as good a job (as we needed to) in developing this team.
The 2014 class and its ability to contribute could be the make-or-break factor for Michigan's 2014 season.
If the rankings are right, this may be the ultimate test of just how good or bad Hoke and his staff truly are at player development.